‘One Day in April’


With Little 500 just days away, Bloomington and the IU campus are gearing up for this annual rite of spring.

So is a film crew, which has been tracking four teams all spring for a documentary that the filmmakers claim will cover Little 500 in a way that has never been seen before.

“Even people at the race will not understand the story the way that we’re going to present it,” said Peter Stevenson, BA’12 (political science).

He, Tom Miller, BAJ’12, and senior Ryan Black are working on a feature-length film, One Day in April, a documentary that explores the famed bike race. They plan to release the film next spring just before Little 500.

Armed with a fleet of high definition cameras, dozens of microphones and an army of production assistants, they are working on giving viewers an intimate look into both the magic of race day and the path the riders will have taken to get there.

“I would say that if our movie is boiled down to one point, it’s the journey,” Stevenson said.

Miller and Stevenson said they have approached the Little 500 from the individual riders’ vantage points to tell their stories.

“I think it would be really easy to go out there and get a bunch of wreck video, some cool shots of people riding on the roads, and close-up shots of people wearing badass sunglasses,” Stevenson said. “But that’s not really a story. That’s a Sports Center commercial.”

Instead, the filmmakers said their cinematic approach will give the audience a bottom-up, insider’s perspective into the Little 500 experience.

“The story we want it tell is a story people can relate to,” Stevenson said. “And what we have found is a really common Midwestern story, the idea of working as hard as you can and to become an athletic champion.”

In order to parse out this narrative for the documentary, the filmmakers have been following the journeys of four teams with storied histories at the race: the Cutters and Delta Tau Delta in the men’s division, and Delta Gamma and Teter in the women’s division. Miller and Stevenson said they want to craft a story that speaks to the whole experience, one that represents all 33 teams that will take to the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium this weekend.

“We are hoping that by telling the stories of the teams that we’re focusing on, we can do justice to the story that all of them live in a way,” Miller says.

The toughest obstacle still ahead for the film team is, of course, race day. On that day, Miller and Stevenson will find themselves conducting a virtual symphony of more than two dozen production assistants and 18 standard- and high-speed cameras trained on everyone from riders whizzing around the quarter-mile cinder track to the teams’ coaches operating in the pit.

All those cameras will help them reveal dimensions of the race that no one has really seen before, the filmmakers say.

“What we feel like we need to capture in order to get race day right is the little moments that change the course of the race,” Stevenson said.

“That means you’ve gotta have the moment when the coach is like, ‘All right Lisa, you’re in,’” Miller said. “You’ve got to have…all of these tiny sort of ’micro moments’ that add up to the story of the race.”

Tackling a project of this size has been a learning experience for Miller and Stevenson, one that forces them to think not only about how to tell the creative story they envision, but also the business end of filmmaking.

“I think for both of us, this is by far the most logistically complex project we’ve ever done,” Stevenson said.

Though a political science major, he was active in student media at IU, serving as photo and managing editor at the Indiana Daily Student. He and Miller often collaborated at the IDS or in other media projects.

Miller and Stevenson said they have found that coordinating with everyone from camera gear suppliers, their two-dozen assistants, the members of the highlighted race teams, and IU officials and legal staff is an art in itself. To help manage the workload, they have delegated tasks. While Stevenson concentrates mainly on writing and other storytelling aspects of the project, Miller is in charge of nearly everything going into telling the visual side of the story.

“Tom knows a lot about running a live production with multiple cameras going,” Stevenson said. “He is in his element when we have 25 people to assign different jobs.”

“There’s nothing I love more than just barking at people to go do things,” Miller said, laughing.

But the two say their progress would not be possible without the help of their colleagues, especially Black and IU alumna Kirsten Powell. Black, a telecommunications senior, is the other co-creator of the film project. He collaborated with Miller on their 2012 short film All We’ve Built, which debuted at the Cannes International Film Festival last summer.

“Ryan is very much like my right-hand person. At this point, it is like having my brain in another person’s body,” Miller said. “I can just tell him to go do something, and I know he’ll execute it how I would do it.”

Powell, a telecommunications alumna, was brought onto the project as a consultant and producer earlier this month. A former Little Five rider for Delta Gamma, she has the insider’s knowledge. Neither Stevenson nor Miller have participated in the race.

“She’s our Charles Barkley,” Miller said. “She doesn’t have the technical background in terms of the filmmaking part. But what she does have is an incredibly deep understanding of the race and the psychology of the riders.”

Current journalism students also are integral to the team. Chet Strange, Mark Felix, Steph Langan and Anna Teter are among those capturing images and footage that will contribute to the wealth of material the crew hopes to accumulate.

Miller and Stevenson said creating the documentary came at a good time in their careers. Miller had finished months of work for the Barack Obama campaign and the presidential inauguration, and Stevenson had been working as a freelance political reporter for The New York Times.

“Tom was sleeping on my basement floor at one point in December, taping some meetings in D.C.,” Stevenson said. “I think I turned to Tom and said, ‘Look, I always thought it would be really badass to do a Little Five documentary. Isn’t it a shame that we never did.’ And his answer was, ‘Well, why don’t we?’”

As freelancers, neither had trouble dropping everything and coming back to Bloomington to begin organizing the project. To raise money, they crowdsourced through indiegogo.com, an online funding platform, to solicit support, and they used Facebook to alert friends and followers to the campaign. To raise the stakes, they offered perks based on giving levels, such as screen credits for top donors.

“I’ve been living out of my suitcase since February,” Stevenson said. “It’s tough, but it’s a lot of fun. And it’s a good excuse for me to live in Bloomington for another spring.”

After editing throughout next autumn and winter, the film team plans to show preview screenings of One Day in April in Bloomington in the run-up to next year’s Little 500. Soon after, they said they hope to hit the festival circuit and hope to get the documentary shown at South by Southwest festival in Austin and possibly the Sundance Film Festival.

Neither put much hope in financial success stemming from the film.

“We’re not in this for money. We’re not in this for fame. We want people to see the story that we’re trying to tell,” Stevenson said. “As a creative person, that is the best kind of reward you can get: People being interested in your work.”




Filmmaker Danfung Dennis Explains Technique, Storytelling Strategy of ‘Hell and Back Again’


A decade of war scenes on TV news does not depict the toll on soldiers as they are under fire or when they return home, says filmmaker Danfung Dennis. His award-winning documentary, Hell and Back Again, aims to do just that, examining the life of one marine’s re-entry to family life after three tours of duty and a serious injury.

Dennis spoke to students and faculty Tuesday afternoon at the IU Cinema as the cinema’s Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecturer. Later that evening, the cinema showed the documentary as the final screening in the Photojournalists at War series, which was sponsored by the IU Cinema and the School of Journalism.

Dennis began covering Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, and his work has been featured in Time, The New York Times, Le Figaro and other publications as well in Frontline’s “Obama’s War” program.

Those years of experience provided the footing for the project that became Hell and Back Again, which follows Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris of Echo Company in the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines in Helmand Province in 2009. The film juxtaposes the soldier’s experiences in combat on the warfront with the difficulties he suffers while attempting to adjust back to civilian life in North Carolina following a debilitating injury.

“I was embedded with Echo Company 2/8, and we were dropped deep behind enemy lines,” Dennis told the audience under the soft light in the dim cinema. “And within a few hours, we were surrounded and attacked on all sides. The fighting was extremely heavy.”

Armed with a Canon 5D Mark II outfitted with shotgun microphones and mounted onto a customized Glidecam connected to his bullet proof vest, Dennis was embedded in Helmand Province with Harris and his comrades. He began capturing what would be nearly 100 hours of steady cinematic tracking shots of soldiers under fire.

Dennis said his goal was to capture Operation Enduring Freedom and the burgeoning militant insurgency in Afghanistan, using Echo Company’s experiences.

“By the end of the first day, one marine had been killed, a dozen had collapsed from heat exhaustion, and nearly all of us had run out of water,” Dennis said. “And that’s when I first met Sgt. Nathan Harris.”

Harris handed Dennis his own water bottle that day. On his third combat tour, Harris had a passion for being nothing else but a “grunt” fighting on the front lines in the 8th Marines infantry, Dennis said.

“He was an exceptional leader — and really fearless. So I followed him as he pushed into this platoon,” Dennis told the audience. “And it became a story about one man going to war and coming home from it.”

Shortly before embarking on one of the final missions of his tour, Harris was wounded by enemy fire. His injuries added to the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life for him and his wife, Ashley.

That’s the story Dennis wanted to tell, and he had unrestricted access to the personal lives of Harris and his wife after the soldier’s return to North Carolina. The couple became accustomed to Dennis and his camera, always in the background of their lives, as they dealt with the physical and psychological challenges, and the strain on their marriage.

In the film, Dennis wove footage of Harris and his platoon on the warfront, unloading heavy machine gun clips into enemy positions and ducking away from IED blasts, with scenes of the soldier and of his wife relaxing at home, shopping at Walmart and going to medical appointments.

“The goal was to bridge the reality of the conflict with American consciousness back home,” Dennis explained. For many citizens, their country’s wars are far removed from their day-to-day lives, and the film, Dennis said, could show the sacrifices and hardships of soldiers and their families at war and at home.

Hell and Back Again premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it earned the World Cinema Jury Award and the World Cinema Cinematography Award. The film was nominated earlier this year for a 2012 Academy Award for best feature documentary.

Dennis also talked about his next project, a technological innovation that futher melds photography with computers and gives viewers a panoramic, three dimensional and immersive experience. His company, Condition One, is working on this technique.

Before the lecture, associate professor Jim Kelly introduced Dennis and moderated a short panel discussion that included professors Claude Cookman and Steve Raymer. Lecturer Dennis Elliott also helped organize Dennis’ appearance.

The other two films that were part of the series, War Photographer about photographer James Nachtwey, and James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments, were shown earlier this spring.



Monroe County Head Start to Cut Student Slots, Employees

Monroe County’s Head Start program is making cuts to its staff and to the number of spaces available to children starting immediately.

The South Central Community Action Program must cut 5.1 percent of its Head Start budget, which amounts to more than $150,000 in cuts, because of funding constraints stemming from the federal sequestration.

The SCCAP Board of Directors and Head Start Parent Council voted Monday night to cut 12 Head Start slots for children ages three to five and 25 home-based slots for children up to age three.  Fifteen employees will also be let go.

Other cuts include the closure of the Head Start classroom at Lakeview Elementary and the suspension of Head Start transportation services at the end of this school year. Attendance for 2013 summer classes will also be slashed by 67 percent, keeping over 70 children at home during the summer months.

SCCAP Executive Director Todd Lare says parents will be forced to seek alternative sources of child care, and for more time each year.

“We’re also ending the school year early by a month,” he says. “So parents that were intending to have child care taken care of for another month are not going to have that.”

Tiffany Bengtson is one of the luckier parents. Her daughter Emma will be old enough to go to kindergarten. But she knows several parents whose children will be affected. For them, the future is less certain.

“As far as knowing what they’re going to do,” Bengtson says. “I don’t know. And its…I don’t even know if they know at this point since the cuts just came. But hopefully they’ll be able to find something. I hope.”

While the Head Start budget rollbacks in Marion County have been decided, they still have to be approved by the Head Start Regional Office in Chicago before going into effect.

Link to TV Version of Story:


Terre Haute Hospital Unveils New Mother-Baby Unit

Union Hospital, a not-for-profit healthcare center that services Terre Haute and the greater Wabash Valley, christened its brand new mother-baby unit today.

At a cost of $3 million, renovations transformed the third floor of the hospital’s west building over four months, creating the space and resources to provide neonatal care for 30 mother-baby couplets immediately after birth—double the hospital’s prior capacity.

Jennifer Harrah, nursing care manager of the newborn intensive care and pediatrics, says the founding of the unit comes in the wake of increasing rates of births in the area.

“Our hospital over the last four years has consistently had an increase in our birth rate,” she says. “We were on a 15-bed post-partum unit. And with the opening of our new labor and delivery and newborn intensive care last July, we saw an even more increase in our birth rate. And 15 beds just were not enough for our patients.”

The revamped unit combines nursing care for mothers and babies that was, prior to its opening, separated between post-partum care for mothers and nursery care for their newborns. Mother-baby couplets now stay and sleep together in the same room and spend more time with one another than is often possible in traditional approaches to neonatal care.

Desiree Hensel, assistant professor of nursing at Indiana University-Bloomington, says this unified strategy yields several benefits.

“We know that when mothers and babies stay together, it promotes better breast feeding,” she says. “That’s simply the best reason.”

Centers like Union Hospital’s mother-baby unit are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, Hensel says, simply because of their success in advocating for breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization regards as an essential step to ensuring healthy infant development.

But bonding time through cohabitation also provides a significant boon for both those mothers who choose to breastfeed and those who do not. The chance to take up more responsibility for the care of their newborns in the hospital after delivery also provides gives mothers a practice run of the care they’ll be giving after returning home.

“The more the mom provides the care for the baby instead of the nurse, the more that we are really improving their self efficacy,” Hensel says. “We acknowledge that the parent is the primary care giver, not the nurse. They’re going to be the ones who care for the baby when they leave the hospital. So the best we can do is promote that self efficacy in moms and reassure them that they’re doing a good job and help guide them when they need it.”

Hospital officials will soon begin applying for accreditation from World Health Organization, designating its mother-baby unit as an official Baby Friendly health center. The Baby Friendly campaign advocates for mother-newborn cohabitation after birth with the purpose of strengthening bonding between mother and child, facilitating breastfeeding and providing firsthand education for new mothers on strategies for proper infant care.

The renovations of the mother-baby unit was Union Hospital’s second construction project for maternal child services in recent years. It opened its new labor and delivery and newborn intensive care center last July.

Here is the Link to the Published Article: